INDIA @ 2018
As another year of action and inaction draws to an end, we revisit the most-gripping headlines that shaped India’s calendar year — from the emphatic strike down of Section 377 to the pitiable Kathua rape — the journey has escalated through defined contours of pride and shame
2018 India awakens to 1818 caste divide
Commemorating the 200-year-old victory of a Dalit-dominated British army over upper-caste Marathas, a congregation of Dalit groups had gathered at Bhima-Koregaon, about 40 km from Pune. Though an annual event, this year, the gathering turned dangerously riotous as unidentified men yielding flags stormed through the crowd, causing extreme violence and loss of property. 200 years later, India revealed a visible divide drawn on meaningless caste constructs as one person died, several were left injured (including policemen) and over 40 vehicles were burnt and damaged.
PNB fraud: Diamond merchants loot & scoot
Sending ripples of uncertainty through India's financial framework, state-owned Punjab National Bank reported a staggering fraud of Rs 11,400 crore, from a Mumbai branch, against diamond merchant Nirav Modi and allies. Touted as India's largest banking scam, this money laundering was possible with the issuance of 143 false LoUs, a majority being issued or renewed in 2017-18. Modi, of course, has since escaped the country as government agencies were still taking cognizance.
Data theft for electoral steals
Social media giant Facebook was on the receiving end of scathing criticism after an exposé revealed that over 50 million user profiles had been mined by data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) to influence the US and UK elections. The echoes impacted India, as Congress and BJP were both accused of using CA data to manipulate the Indian voter and drive results in their direction. Yet again, the misuse of power and reduced veracity of electioneering was brought to the forefront as both parties exchanged diatribes to only reveal how they were both equally steering the country's boat into a din of ruthless power mongering.
From Unnao to Kathua: The Indian girl screams injustice
Two horrific cases of rape sent shivers through the mild-mannered country's conscience – monstrous perpetrators though bloom unadmonished. On April 8, a young girl attempted to immolate herself in front of UP CM Yogi Adityanath's residence, protesting rape and unheeded police complaints against BJP MLA and Unnao legislator K S Sengar, since 2017. Not only was her police complaint ignored, but her father was also unduly arrested as he ultimately succumbed in judicial custody.
The case hearing for the eight-year-old Kathua victim who was brutalised, raped and murdered in January was finally underway from April, with protests across the country demanding justice be brought to the girl. In light of this shattering event, the Union Cabinet approved an ordinance proposing the death sentence for perpetrators of rape when victims are less than 12-years-old.
Nipah virus scathes Kerala
A seemingly innocuous virus spread its wings in Kerala, with 17 reported dead and several others quarantined. Transmitted from animals to humans, primarily from bats through fruits, the virus attacks the immune system causing ultimate death. The first victim, a 28-year-old nurse from Kozhikode, Lini Puthussery, died while attending to an infected family. The outbreak reinstated global fears of microorganisms orchestrating fatal implications on the future of mankind while also shedding light on our lack of preparedness in battling unknown enemies. Though advisories were issued across the country, Nipah did not afflict casualties outside Kerala and was duly combatted, this time.
Rising Kashmir Editor falls in brutal assassination
On June 14, Shujaat Bukhari, veteran journalist and founding editor of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based newspaper, was brutally shot by unidentified assailants outside his office in the Press Enclave area of Srinagar. Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar-e-Taiba that looms large in Kashmir, inciting violence in the state, has been accused of the murder which also saw the death of two of Bukhari's J&K police bodyguards, while another civilian was injured. Bukhari had been an active proponent of establishing peace in the Kashmir Valley, having already survived three assassination attempts. His death came as a harsh reminder of how independent thought is throttled in today's time of uncertainty and forced violence. The community of journalists, whose very job requires asking difficult questions to unearth uncomfortable answers, stands threatened in this face of brutal violence. Yet, Bukhari's sacrifice, rather than being a deterrent will further motivate the intellectual community to restore peace in India's priced Jannat.
Shelter homes accused of shamelessly savaging inmates
A TISS study reported rampant sexual exploitation of inmates at Balik Grih, a home run by NGO Sankalp Evam Vikram Samiti, in Bihar's Muzaffarpur. At least 29 girls, aged between seven and 17, had been victims of repeated rape attempts, over a significant stretch of time. In another disclosure on August 6, 24 girls were finally rescued from a nasty web of sexual abuse at a shelter home in eastern Uttar Pradesh's Deoria. 18 inmates were additionally found missing. Owners of both homes were duly arrested, though the evil can hardly be undone. These nefarious elements remind us of the little heed that is paid to humanitarianism in the face of fulfilling petty desires — even unrequited, unethical lust. In India, those without power become powerless by the minute, while those already endowed with power do not shy away from further self-aggrandisement.
Kerala experiences worst deluge of century, close to 500 dead
From August 9, Kerala witnessed its worst flooding in a century as the state received an excess of 75 per cent rainfall. Over 483 people died and several went missing while around a million people were displaced and evacuated from their homes. The entire country expressed solidarity as several channels of donations were opened up to assist those in God's own country. Government figures suggest that one-sixth of the total population of Kerala has been devastated directly by the floods and related incidents. Declared a Level 3 calamity, the deluge caused damage to property worth Rs 40,000 crore, while the state's tourism took a severe dip as it was recuperating from the recently-concluded Nipah scare.
377 struck down: India shines in Pride
India made a historic declaration by scrapping an archaic colonial-era law that criminalised homosexual relationships. The Supreme Court struck down Section 377 as unconstitutional to the extent that consensual homosexual relationships cannot be criminalised in the eyes of law. While reading the unanimous judgement, the five-judge Constitution bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra clearly stated that the biological imperative of sexual orientation cannot be subject to law – that would be an impingement on the fundamental rights of speech and expression. Months of rallying by the LGBTQ community, who have often lived a life in the shadows, fearful of horrific condemnation in society, finally bore some fruit as legally, their rights now stand protected in the Indian Constitution. The more difficult battle though lies ahead – to undo the traditional, shackled mentality pervasive across Indian society that scowls at any idea other than the heteronormative.
#Metoo firestorm sends Indian men scurrying
The #Metoo scare had sent ripples through Hollywood as women came out in solidarity to discuss their horrific experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of the glitzy and powerful. October didn't spell well for the Indian entertainment industry with several names shining in the shame of sexual regression. First came Utsav Chakraborty, accusations against whom led to a sudden dismantling of the growing AIB. Soon followed the all-powerful celebrity journalist turned minister MJ Akbar. Thereafter came holier-than-thou Alok Nath and Maharashtra's pride Nana Patekar. The list seemed endless. Women, globally, have silently endured male superiority that has largely translated into untoward instances of sexual gratification. The #Metoo wave, a departure from the era of silence, has unravelled the evil contours running through powerful businesses. Perhaps now, in fear of social media shame, if not for ethical guilt, men with money will blink twice before demanding sexual favours. Whether they will turn into a new leaf is still debatable.
34 years later, a glimmer of justice
The 1984 anti-Sikh riots had witnessed the savaging of a minority community by a politically-empowered majority. As Indira Gandhi fell at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, North India trembled in uncertainty with members of the Sikh community fleeing for their lives. Despite the widespread accounts of murder, immolation, property destruction, vandalism – no meaningful sentences were given, of course owing to political tutelage. Finally on November 20, 34 years later, Yashpal Singh was sentenced to death for killing two persons in 1984. Reports suggest that 3,000 Sikhs had been killed in Delhi and between 8,000 and 17,000 Sikhs had been brutalised across the country. Three decades later, politics finally gave way to justice, as the first perpetrator was sentenced to death.
Supreme Court breaks Rafale logjam, Centre flies high
The Supreme Court, hearing the Rafale judgment, presented a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government on the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, dismissing alleged irregularities in the petition seeking a CBI intervention. The Opposition had mounted a scathing attack on the Centre for alleged irregularities and corporate partiality in assigning the Rafale deal. Expecting to catch the Narendra Modi government on its wrong foot, the Opposition was riding on the Rafale luck to overturn the Centre. The Supreme Court though eclipsed such ambition by refusing to interfere in the negotiations leading to the agreement, strictly declaring that dealing with comparative details of pricing was beyond the scope of the Court. Further, given India's urgency in acquiring fourth and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the Court refused to stall processes of acquisition. The decision naturally didn't go well with the Opposition which soon turned against the Court's veracity and continues questioning the tainted Centre.